Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic purposes. Essential oils are made from plants that are distilled into highly concentrated oils. Then, these oils are either diluted in a blend to be applied topically, diffused into the air or added to cosmetics.
Practiced as part of a holistic health routine, this therapy has been around for thousands of years but is finally getting attention from the mainstream medical community. A handful of studies have already tested the effects of a variety of essential oils in long-term care facilities.
How does it work?
Researchers aren't entirely sure how, or why, essential oils work. It's believed by some scientists that the molecules from essential oils, especially those applied topically, can be absorbed by the body and then interact positively with our own hormones, enzymes and brain chemicals, according to University of Maryland Medical Center. Others believe that the smell alone impacts our emotional and physical sense of well-being. As a scent hits the receptors in our noses responsible for smelling, those receptors communicate to the amygdala and hippocampus in the brain, which control emotions and memories. If those regions of your brain are stimulated, it may produce feelings of happiness, comfort or calm.
Are there any safety concerns?
Aromatherapy should always be practiced in addition to any existing medical protocols and under the supervision of a knowledgeable aromatherapist. Avoid anything that a person is allergic to, and always test any topical blends before applying them to large swaths of skin. You should never apply a pure essential oil to a person's skin - it must always be diluted with a carrier oil. Massage products, cosmetic products, and mass-produced essential oil blends are typically diluted ahead of time, so as long as you don't buy single oils directly from a manufacturer, you don't need to worry.
What oils have been tested
In a small study of 28 individuals with dementia, a blend of rosemary and lemon was used in the morning, and one made from lavender and orange in the evening, as summarized on Health and Healing NY. Patients who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's showed a positive change in dementia assessment scores after nearly a month of treatment. No lab tests indicated any change in body chemistry, which researchers believe is a sign that no negative side effects occurred. Another study showed that lavender could improve both mood and anxiety in a hospital setting. It's believed that lavender could be a beneficial tool in relieving the stress of senior citizens with high anxiety levels or mental health concerns.
If you're interested in exploring aromatherapy, it's important to do your research ahead of time. Always make sure to check with a doctor, and never ingest any essential oil.